Using Biofuels to Power Municipal Water Treatment

Researchers at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) are working with the Village of Minoa to treat wastewater using alternative energy sources.

A year ago, David Johnson, professor of chemistry at ESF, started working with Steve Giarrusso, supervisor of the Minoa wastewater treatment facility. “They’ve been at the edge of green technology for some time,” Johnson says of the facility, which uses constructed wetlands for filtration.

Johnson, whose research interests include harnessing energy from biomass, says that the facility is an ideal testbed. “There are no new technologies per se, just new ways of using technology,” he says.

The idea is to use organic material -- food and yard waste -- in anaerobic digestion units, which then produce methane to power the facility’s electricity needs.

So far, they’ve got a small 70-gallon reactor running on waste from a local hotel kitchen. Johnson and Giarrusso are now building a 200-gallon unit to start using in the fall. “It’s still small scale,” he says. “We want to implement things in a cost-effective and simple fashion.”

Everything Johnson does is with sustainability in mind. He and his colleagues make what they need from existing materials to reduce costs and waste. Further, even at a small scale, using waste for energy means reducing waste sent to landfills.

Working at the facility breeds scores of other ideas. Johnson wants to capture the heat generated by composting organic material to power the digester. And he wonders if the algae that grows naturally in the wetlands could be harvested for additional organic material.

These ideas are all in line with SUNY’s commitment to an energy-smart New York.


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